'I'm an easy target': Cronulla Sharks star Josh Dugan breaks down in tears in emotional interview

Josh Dugan at Cronulla Sharks training. Picture: John Veage
Josh Dugan at Cronulla Sharks training. Picture: John Veage

It started out as most other routine press conferences.

Questions about last week’s game. Questions about this week’s game. 

How are you feeling? What’s the mood like in the squad?

Then, just before the four minute and 30 second mark, a routine press conference became extraordinary.

Extraordinary because of a young man releasing years of pent up frustration with raw honesty.

Baring his soul.

Josh Dugan broke down in tears at a packed media conference, believing he will never change the public’s perception of him.

Dugan was speaking to reporters at Shark Park on Tuesday afternoon in the lead up to Cronulla’s do or die elimination semi-final against Penrith on Friday night.

It was the first time the Sharks centre had spoken publicly since a controversial appearance on a podcast last month which earned he and Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita written warnings from the club.

Dugan opened up about the strain and mental anguish it has caused him being touted as a rugby league bad boy which he believes stems from his sacking at Canberra in 2013 – a blemish on his career he has been unable to remove.

“I’ve been an easy target since 2013 and I can’t see that changing. Because that’s when I got sacked from Canberra,” he said.

“Everyone is going to have an opinion… it’s never going to change. It doesn’t matter how much stuff I do outside of footy.

"I raised $15,000 for a young boy not that long ago. I visited him in hospital. He passed away. You don’t hear about that. It’s only the bad stuff. I’m used to it.”

Fairfax Media reported Dugan had spent time raising the spirits of 13-year-old Gabe Smith, who suffered from a rare childhood brain cancer. The teen died in July and Dugan dedicated the remainder of the season to him in an Instagram post.

Dugan has had a difficult first season in the shire since leaving Cronulla’s arch rivals St George Illawarra.

He has had to deal with a number of injuries, playing just 13 matches for Cronulla this season, and lost his NSW jersey as the Blues won back the State of Origin shield.

Dugan said negative media and fan attention had been “draining”.

“I understand players are responsible for their actions and I’m responsible for my actions as well," Dugan said.

"I’ve copped a lot of brunt for the things I’ve done. I’ve accepted that and moved on from that. It also doesn’t help when negativity sells papers more than a feel-good story would.

“I’ve been trying for the past five years. I’ve got my diploma in community and social work. I’ve been doing stuff with the community for the last nine months. Things you don’t hear about."

Sharks captain Paul Gallen said Dugan was misunderstood by many.

“I know how much Duges does for other people,” Gallen said.

“He doesn’t go looking for the limelight. He doesn’t have a camera behind his back when he sees a kid in hospital.

“Other people don’t understand that. When he gets bagged, he finds it hard to take because he knows how much he does.

“He’s had a hard year. He’s come here with a lot of expectation and unfortunately he’s had a lot of injuries. You heap that on top of the podcast and being left out of Origin hurt him as well.

“He’s had a number of things go on this year and we just need him at his best this weekend.”

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